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Threat Backfire
Darwin Mayflower: I'll kill your friends, your family, and the bitch you took to the prom!
Hudson Hawk: Betty Jo Biarski? I can get you an address on that if you want.

A character threatens another with something that not only fails to scare them, but in fact they would consider a favor. For example, saying "I'll Kill You!" to the Death Seeker, or describing the tortures you could use to the person who is Too Kinky to Torture, or telling someone "I Have Your Wife" to be met with the response that You Can Keep Her.

Compare Insult Backfire and Attack Backfire. Often a Sub-Trope of Tempting Fate and the related Be Careful What You Say, Threat Backfire is also a common effect of telling someone they have to Go Through Me, responding to someone else's threat with You and What Army?, or using virtually any Stock Phrase featuring the words "over my dead body" or "from my cold, dead fingers". Also a common response to challenges on the lines of "Oh yeah? And what are you gonna do about it?" when the threatened person treats this as if it were a real request for information, to be answered with a practical demonstration of more or less devastating force, accompanied by the answer "This".

This one has a few variations:

  1. The person being threatened is not being funny, just very Literal-Minded or socio-linguistically tone-deaf. The Comically Serious will often give this kind of response. May also be caused by or overlap with Blunt Metaphors Trauma. Depending on the size and menacingness of the threatened, this one can also be a case of Do Not Taunt Cthulhu.
  2. The person being threatened knows it's a threat, but decides to take it at the Exact Words face value for comic effect at the other's expense. Most common when the person threatened is a Trickster or Deadpan Snarker. Can still be fatal.
  3. The person making the threat is either grandstanding or bluffing, and now finds they have to follow through, possibly to their own defeat, if they're even given time to respond at all.
  4. The person making the threat means it literally, even if they might be hoping it doesn't have to come to that: not quite such a straight play, but still straight-ish. May lead to an Oh Crap moment on the threat-issuer's part.
  5. Not infrequently sighted subversion: the person on the receiving end of the threat is trying to exploit the fact that it will be taken in Exact Words terms, and is actually Briar Patching. And then, of course, it turns out this one can backfire, or at least misfire, too (see the Futurama example).

Super Trope of Blackmail Backfire, which is when the threat is a blackmailing attempt.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • In Full Metal Panic!, the I'll Kill You! to a Death Seeker variant appears between Sōsuke and Gauron. Sōsuke, who is sick and tired of Gauron repeatedly not dying when he's supposed to, constantly yells that he'll kill him out of frustration. And Gauron, being Too Kinky to Torture and a depraved thrillseeker, responds to this with ecstasy and joy, normally along the lines of: "OH, I'M SO HAPPY KASHIM!"
  • In Black Cat, there's Train's first meeting with Creed. Train, being annoyed that he's assigned a partner, disdainfully tells Creed that he doesn't need him, and pretty much threatens him to shove off or he'll kill him. Unfortunately, Creed is a masochist. Cue Creed constantly stalking Train and bothering him.
  • In Fairy Tail, during the Luxus arc, Evergreen threatens to turn many of Fairy Tail's female mages into dust if Erza doesn't submit to her. Erza immediately responds by pointing dozens of swords at Evergreen, and praising Evergreen for valuing victory above her own life.
  • In chapter 516 of Naruto, after Kabuto brings Deidara and Sasori back as revenants this exchange occurs:
    Sasori: (referring to Kabuto) The Akatsuki must have gone to hell in a hand basket to be taking orders from such a ragged fool...
    Deidara: I wouldn't be so arrogant considering you died, master. "True art is beauty that endures eternally", especially when your weakness is a huge bulls-eye in the middle of your chest! Hm!
    Sasori: (menacingly) You want to die too, Deidara?
    Deidara: I am dead, both of us are!
  • In Dragon Ball Z, Gohan is fighting Cell and is at a distinct disadvantage. However, he knows that if he gets into an Unstoppable Rage, he can probably beat Cell. He warns Cell of this fact, trying to get him to back down. What he fails to consider (which Cell lampshades) is that Cell is the kind of person who wants Gohan at peak form to test the limits of his strength, and Gohan's revelation just makes him determined to press Gohan's Berserk Button and see his hidden power.
  • When Victor assures Huey that he's about to undergo the worst experience of his life in Baccano!, Huey takes it as a challenge.
    Huey: I wonder... You see, currently, my worst memory is the experience of watching my mother die to prove her innocence in exchange for the execution of many of the people I loved. Another would be the memory of being unable to rescue my wife, back when we were in our hometown. It is positively fascinating to hear you insinuate that you could force me to experience something even more painful than these two memories. Could you perhaps enlighten me to the specifics?

    Comic Books 
  • In Secret Six #20, Catman's infant son gets held hostage, and the hostage-takers threaten to drop him off a building. For every one of his team he kills in the next five minutes, they will allow his son to live for one year. After long deliberation, Catman tells them to go ahead and drop his son, and that he is going to hunt them all down. He then goes on a pre-emptive Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • A sleazy little creep is cornered by Boba Fett and Fett's ex-wife Sintas and tries to use a hostage to save his life. It doesn't go quite as planned.
    Pizztov: Drop your weapons, or I will be forced to kill this annoying female.
    Fett: No, kill her.
    Sintas: Yeah, I don't care.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin's mom once told him the all-too-common parental threat that making faces too often would cause his face to freeze that way. She should have known better than to try that with Calvin. It actually encouraged him to do it more.
  • In one Zits strip, Walt, who was doing the laundry, was getting really sick of Jeremy sending his socks down the laundry chute wadded up and inside out, and eventually lost his temper:
    Walt (screaming up the chute): New rule! The next sock that comes down this chute inside out, I keep!
    (What has to be every sock Jeremy owns tumbles down the chute on top of him, all of them inside-out.)
    Walt: Well, I guess I deserved that.
    Connie: You guess?
    Jeremy (From upstairs): MOM! I need new socks!
  • Nearly happens to Jason in one FoxTrot when he goes to science camp for the summer. His councilor, who has been incredibly nasty to him all summer, is a nerdy high schooler named Morton. Jason had been planning to get his revenge by trying to set Morton up with his sister Paige, whom Jason considers completely horrible. Morton, however, considers Paige a goddess and worships the ground she walks on. As Jason is leaving camp, Morton practically begs Jason to help him get together with Paige, causing Jason to rethink his revenge plans...

    Films — Animated 
  • In Dreamworks' The Road to El Dorado, two Spanish con men (Tulio and Miguel) find the city of gold and are mistaken for gods. Immediately taking advantage of this, they warn that they are not to be trifled with, or else they will bring their wrath upon the city. "And you don't want that, do you?" Unfortunately, that's exactly what the High Priest wants - for the gods to clense the city of the wicked and visit their wrath upon the non-believers. Moments later, a series of coincidences makes it look like Miguel and Tulio avert a volcanic eruption, so their cover isn't blown yet.
  • In Disney's Mulan, the Big Bad Shan Yu invades China. As a guard explains to him a few seconds later, he immediately alerts China of his presence using a signal fire. He turns out to be happy about it, and he uses the fire to burn an imperial flag.
    Guard: Now all of China knows you're here.
    Shan Yu: Perfect.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Hudson Hawk, as quoted above.
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery: Austin takes Scott Evil (Dr. Evil's son) hostage.
    Austin: It seems the tables have turned again, Dr. Evil.
    Dr. Evil: Not really. Kill the little bastard. See what I care.
  • From Men In Black:
    Bug: Place projectile weapon on the ground.
    Edgar: You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.
    Bug: Your proposal is acceptable.
    • Also:
    Dr. Weaver: You don't want to eat me. I'm a very important person on my planet. Like a queen, a goddess even. There are those who worship me. I'm not saying this to impress you, I'm just warning you it could start a war!
    "Edgar":note  War? Good! That means more food for my family. All 78 million of them! That's a lot of mouths to feed, your highness!
  • Spider-Man 2:
    Doc Ock: (entering the carriage) He's MINE!
    (All the other passengers take up his claim and surround Spider-Man)
    Doc Ock: Very well...
    (Doc Ock shoves the passengers aside with his tentacles)
  • In Ruthless People, two clueless kidnappers snatch Danny De Vito's wife and threaten to kill her. Since he was planning on doing that himself it isn't much of a threat.
  • And, of course...Star Wars:
    Greedo: Jabba's through with you. He has no use for smugglers who drop their shipments at the first sign of an Imperial cruiser.
    Han Solo: Even I get boarded sometimes. Do you think I had a choice?
    Greedo: You can tell that to Jabba. He may only take your ship.
    Han Solo: Over my dead body!
    Greedo: That's the idea... I've been looking forward to this for a long time.
    • And then Han inverts it on Greedo:
      Han: Yes, I bet you have. (shoots Greedo FIRST)
    • In Revenge of the Sith, when Obi-Wan and General Grievous face off on Utapau:
      Grievous: I've been trained in your Jedi arts by Count Dooku himself.
      Obi-Wan: Good, because I trained the Jedi who killed Count Dooku.
  • In The Matrix series:
    Seraph: I need to speak with him.
    Club Hel bouncer: The only way you're getting through that door is over my big, dead ass.
    Seraph: So be it. *asskicking ensues*
  • In the 2009 Star Trek:
    "Cupcake": Maybe you can't count, farmboy, but there's four of us and only one of you.
    Kirk: So get a few more guys, and then it'll be an even fight.
    • While Kirk may have thrown a few good punches, he was eventually thrown on the table and beaten to a pulp. In the sequel, he fondly remembers that fight, apparently assuming he did well. Pike reminds him exactly what happened.
  • In The Dark Knight, Lucius Fox to accountant Reese, who is threatening to expose Bruce Wayne as Batman: "Let me get this straight: You think that your client, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands. And your plan is to blackmail this person? Good luck." Somewhat subverted in that his failure to successfully blackmail the company didn't stop him from threatening to reveal the secret anyway; the Joker took care of that.
  • In Unstoppable, Galvin threatens to fire Frank if he tries to chase down the runaway train. Problem is, Frank was 13 days away from getting laid off, so he doesn't care if he loses his job a little earlier than he was planning. He then threatens to fire Will. Since it's his first day on the job, Will really doesn't have anything vested in it either and just quips it would be a shame as he was "just starting to like" being a train conductor.
  • Happy Gilmore: Shooter McGavin gets nailed this way multiple times.
    McGavin: I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast.
    Happy: You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?
    McGavin: (beat) ...no.
    • Then, later.
      McGavin: Yea, and Grizzly Adams had a beard.
      Lee Travino: Grizzly Adams DID have a beard.
  • In the horror film "Midnight Movie" the cop tells the killer that if he wants to get to the girl behind him, "You'll have to go through me." The villain obliges. Literally.
  • In the first Transformers movie, Sam Witwicky was arrested due to going to the junkyard and presumably for stealing a car (which the police were ironically responding to his call about someone stealing his car). While being interrogated at the police station, the Sheriff asks Sam if he was on drugs, but denies it, although the police man seems to find incriminating evidence of pills in him (although the pills were actually his dog's painkillers, which his parents backed him up). The Policeman then tries to threaten to bust him upon letting him go free, only for it to backfire when Sam Witwicky asks him if the policeman was on drugs.
  • Towards the end of The Rocketeer, as Cliff Secord fights movie star Neville Sinclair who's actually a Nazi spy, aboard a Nazi zeppelin:
    Cliff: (after punching Sinclair) Where's your stuntman now, Sinclair?
    (Sinclair punches Cliff back)
    Sinclair: I do my own stunts.
  • In The Stinger of the The Avengers. Although it probably wasn't intended as a threat or warning, it sounds like it to the audience.
    The Other: Humans... They are not the cowardly wretches we were promised. [...] To challenge them is to court death.
    [Cut to Thanos, whose comic incarnation is a Death Seeker who is literally in love with the The Grim Reaper, with a Slasher Smile on his face.]
  • A diplomatic example in The Wind and the Lion
    Ambassador: "Have you ever heard of the "Big Stick", Your Excellency?"
    Bashaw: "Do not threaten me, Mr. Gummere. I have been threatened by the French, the Germans, the English... I have been threatened by...experts."
  • In Money Train, John and Charlie find Patterson's threat "I'll fuck ya dead" more confusing than intimidating. In private, Charlie asks John "do you think he's gonna fuck us before or after we're dead?"
  • In The Godfather, the film producer wasn't intimidated by the threat that "either his brains or his signature" would end up on the paper. Corleoni's men famously found a more persuasive tactic.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End has a threat backfire for a simple reason. Barbossa and Elizabeth are pressured by Sao Feng by the threat that he will "kill this man"; Barbossa says "Kill him. He's not our man!"

    Literature 
  • In the Discworld novel Interesting Times, Cohen the Barbarian does this quite often — killing people that have said in substance: "I'd rather die than..." — because the barbarians' concept of honor is rather devoid of subtlety. To the point that Cohen's companions start warning people beforehand to not say this kind of thing around their leader. As Cohen states in exasperation, "Why are they saying this if they don't mean it?"
    • When the Klatchian leader in Jingo is told that the Morporkians believe he will run away after "tasting cold steel" he licks his blade and asks why that would make him run away.
  • Unknown spy story: the Soviets produce a movie with a look-alike of a south-east Asian leader having sex with women. After showing the leader the movie and threatening him, the leader asks for a copy of the movie, knowing that the spectacular sexual abilities of the actor would only increase his standing among his people.
  • O. Henry's 1910 story "The Ransom of Red Chief" is a perfect example. Two men kidnap a rich man's son, but when they send the ransom note, the father decides to let them keep the kid for a while. The kid, who calls himself 'Red Chief' is a terror, forcing the two kidnappers to play games and being a general nuisance. When they return the boy, the father has to actually distract his son from chasing after them as they flee out of town.
  • In Neverwhere, Richard tells Croup and Vandemar that if they want Door, they'll have to kill him first. Vandemar is (quite unironically) delighted: "Thanks!"
  • In the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, a shadowy group called the Rakshana kidnap the titular character's brother, and tell Gemma that if she gives the group her magic, they'll let him go. This is after a phenomenally bad day. So, Gemma snaps, and informs the Rakshana that their plan has backfired: up until then, she's been polite and played nice. And now, the only thing keeping her from kicking all of their asses is the fact that her brother is still alive. If they kill him, she'll kill them. They call her on this, and she kicks their asses without killing them.
  • In Proven Guilty of The Dresden Files, Harry confronts what turns out to be a White Court vampire during a horror convention. When Harry starts getting threatening, the vamp smugly says that Harry wouldn't dare risk The Masquerade by using magic in public. Harry responds that he's in the phone book, under "Wizards." The vampire becomes notably less smug.
    • Also, just as a general point and principle, Harry tends to do this to every wannabe warlock and uppity vampire that he runs across, as they tend to have egos bigger than their powers. For instance, in one of the short stories, Harry runs across Darth Wannabe, who is a pompous idiot with a dark mark tattooed on his forearm. Said idiot keeps trying to challenge Harry to a duel over a semi-imagined slight. In response, Harry pulls out his .44. They quickly lose their sneers.
      Idiot: (Armed with only a plastic Harry Potter wand) Wh-what are you doing?
      Harry: (Southern accent) I'm a-fixin' to defend myself.
  • In X-Wing: The Bacta War Ysanne Isard tries to retain her subordinates' loyalty by making examples of their entire families if they turn traitor. In one case, however, a freighter captain remarks that Isard'll be doing him a favor if she has his wife executed.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer ("Buffy versus Dracula"), Xander, who has been Renfielded, tells Riley that if he wants "The Master" "you will have to go through me first". Riley flatly responds "Okey-dokey" and punches him out of the way.
  • On Dan For Mayor Mike believes (rightfully) that Dan caused Mike's fiance to break off their engagement. To get revenge on Dan, he buys the bar where Dan is working just so he can fire him. Dan is quite happy about it since he was going to quit later that day, and this way he is owed severance pay which he would not get if he quit on his own.
  • On NCIS, Gibbs is threatened in the usual way by a gangster: "...I'll kill your brothers, your uncles, your father. And after their funerals, I'll kill you." Gibbs responds, "No brothers, no uncles, my father passed years ago. I do have three ex-wives, whose names and addresses I will gladly fax on to you..." "huh. He hung up." Gibbs was bluffing since his father is still very much alive and whatever issues he has with his ex-wives, he would never let any harm come to them.
  • In an episode of Homeland, Saul and Carrie try to blackmail information out of a rich Middle Eastern man. Their first threat, exposing him as gay, doesn't work, possibly because part of him wants to come out anyway.
  • Band of Brothers: To keep him in line, Captain Sobel arranges some obviously frivolous charges against Winters, and tells him he can either lose his weekend pass, which he never uses anyway, or face court-martial. Winters requests trial by court-martial, which winds up revealing Sobel's pettiness to the higher ups and gets Sobel Kicked Upstairs to non-combat training duties.
  • In Hannibal, Will Graham's threat to Freddie Lounds only gives her more material to work with in making him look mentally unstable.
  • On Grimm some of the nastier Wesen like to reveal their Game Face to their human victims before they kill them. Usually the victims are so freaked out by seeing a monster straight out of a horror movie that they are too stunned to fight back. However, a number of humans close to Nick know about Wesen and have become accustomed to seeing Wesen in their true form. A Wesen who tries this trick on Hank gets a shotgun butt to the face. One who tries it on Juliette gets a kick to the groin and a frying pan to the face. Things go even worse for the attackers when they try it on Nick who is a Grimm. When Nick sees a Wesen transform it triggers a supernatural reaction that lets the Wesen know exactly what Nick is. Most Wesen are utterly terrified of Grimms so the confrontation usually ends with the attacker freaking out and begging Nick not to kill him/her.
  • On Justified Quarles approaches US Marshal Raylan Givens in a bar and threatens that one day he will shoot Raylan dead. As Quarles is leaving Raylan fires a round into the ceiling and tells Quarles that this day is as good as any to have a shootout. Quarles backs down.
    • Raylan threatens Wynn Duffy by throwing a bullet at him and saying that "the next one will be coming faster". Duffy and Quarles use that bullet with Raylan's fingerprints on it to frame him for murder.
    • In general, Raylan reacts very badly to threats against himself or people he cares about. As a result someone who threatens Raylan will have that threat backfire on him fairly quickly.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part Two" (S02, Ep22), Jake was not really thinking when he defies the King of Hell.
    Jake: Go to hell.
    Yellow-Eyed Demon: Been there. Done that.
  • The Doctor is very good at these. When you spend your free time battling galaxy destroying madmen and monsters, it comes naturally. Such as this instance from "The Doctors Wife".
    House: Fear me! I've killed hundreds of Time Lords!
    The Doctor: Fear me. I've killed them all.

    Theater 
  • A Very Potter Sequel: Draco orders Crabbe and Goyle to shake Ron and Hermione to win Harry over.
    Draco: Thinking about being my friend yet, Potter?
    Harry: No way!
    (beat)
    Harry: Yeah. You can torture my friends all you want!

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • In Kevin & Kell, Kell, recently terminated from Herd Thinners, decides to set up her own company to rival it (after some encouragement and funding from the Rabbit Council). Her former boss, RL, calls her when he finds out and threatens to crush her company and devour her. She's thrilled that RL sees her as a threat.
  • In Oglaf, the vampire Navaan tells Ivan that she's going to kill him... but first she's going to have sex with him. When his response is a delighted smile, she backs off in confusion: all her other victims have been lifelong virgins for whom sex is a genuine Fate Worse than Death.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    Azurite Soldier: You will never take this city while I am alive!
    Death Knight: Terms accepted. *runs him through with a sword*

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Briar Patching backfire: in the first episode of Futurama, Fry is upset at the fact he's been assigned the job of "delivery boy";
    Fry: What if I refuse to do it?
    Leela: Then you'll be fired...
    Fry: Fine!
    Leela: ...out of a cannon. Into the sun.
  • In The Venture Bros., a villain threatens Dr. Venture with the death of his sons, shouting, "GIVE ME THE HAND OF OSIRIS!" Doc's response? "Give me head." Sure that Venture just misheard him, the villain declares "I'm about to KILL your sons!" to which Venture nonchalantly replies "Join the club!". This horrifies the villain.
  • The Justice League episode, "Divided We Fall" provides this example:
    Brainthor: (to a restrained Flash) Looks like The Question was right all along... I kill you, and then Armageddon. Right on schedule. (points gun at Flash.)
    Flash: No! (vibrates arms fast enough so as to escape from Brainiac's mechanical guards.)
    (Threat appears to take effect. Flash slumps forward and cautiously retreats, then turns around and speeds away.)
    • Done even earlier by Vandal Savage in the episode 'Hereafter'. Superman is shot 30,000 years into the future, where he and Savage are the only remaining people on Earth. When Superman hears how Savage killed the Justice League, he beats him down before lifting a rock and declaring:
      Superman: I should smash your skull.
      Savage: Go ahead. We both know it wouldn't work.
  • One of Family Guy's Cutaway Gag bits had a slave trader getting annoyed by the slaves constantly asking "Are we there yet?" Finally he yells "If you don't stop it I'm turning this ship around right now!"
  • The Penguins of Madagascar, when Skipper has stolen the batteries from Julien's boombox to shut him up:
    Skipper: You can have this battery when you pry it from my cold dead flippers!
    Julien: Ew, sounds gross. But do-able!
  • Grandpa Marsh is a Death Seeker on South Park.
    • "Death:"
      Cartman: You piece of crap! I'll kill you!
      Grandpa: That's the spirit, tubby!
    • "Quintuplets 2000":
      Officer: Freeze, asshole!
      Grandpa: Aw, go ahead and shoot me! I dare ya!
      Officer: Don't push me, man!
      Grandpa: Pull the trigger, you little pussy!
  • Cheryl from Archer causes this in a few occasions: threaten to kill her and she'll probably rip her top off in anticipation of her world's splooshiest orgasm.
  • In a Treehouse of Horror episode, Maggie is revealed to be Kang's daughter and he and Kodos have come to take her away. After Jerry Springer fails to solve the problem, they give an ultimatum:
    Kang: Anywho, this is your last chance. Turn over the baby now.
    Kodos: Or we will destroy all your leaders in Washington.
    Marge: [knowingly] Oh, you couldn't destroy *every* politician.
    Kang: Just watch us. [laughing menacingly, they board their flying saucer and take off]
    Bart: Don't forget Ken Starr!
    Marge: Suckers.
  • From the series finale of Megas XLR.
    Evil Coop: You know you don't have a chance.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy:
    • In his debut episode, Hoss Delgado has Grim under his gun and says him he's gonna send him to back to hell. Grim gleefully cheers for him to do it, as it would free him from Billy and Mandy. Hoss changes his mind and leaves.
    • The episode "The Wrongest Yard" has two backfires in short order. First, when the football coach plans to replace Mindy with Mandy as the captain of the cheerleading squad, Mindy states that she's taking the other cheerleaders with her if that happens, and the coach remarks he doesn't care since Mandy's better than they are anyway. Then, Mindy angrily tells Mandy that she will never speak to her again if Mandy becomes the captain; Mandy simply tells her, "Well, I can't pass up that offer," and takes the job right then and there.

    Real Life 
  • The standard response when somebody threatens to leave an Internet forum: "And nothing of value was lost."
    • Some forums have admins who, by policy, give these people a helpful whack with the ban hammer on the way out to make sure they follow through.

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